Breathing – the bodily function where lungs take in oxygen and expel carbon dioxide is where our mere existence depends upon. The life of any living being on this earth, starts with it – that first inhalation of air and ends with it too, the final exhalation of air. And that’s why when doctors declare a patient, ‘breathed his or her last’, it means the life has ended and the survival ceased forever for that person. Breathing is an intensely, deeper term that often is a manifestation of our emotions. We tend to breathe rapidly while anxious, deeply when submerged in thoughts and super easy when relaxed!
Whichever way it is, there is no denying that it is not just our heart and mind, our breathing pattern too comes with loads of emotions and that’s why you need to regulate it too! Learning about breathing is even more important now, than ever before, no thanks to Covid-19, that has gripping the world, pounding the lung health for almost two years.
The ancient Hindu texts for many generations have endlessly and extensively discussed the importance of breathing, how and why to breathe, techniques and it gave a common noun to refer it – Pranayama.
In simple terms, the Sanskrit word Pranayama is a yogic practice that lays a greater emphasis on breath. Prana means ‘vital life force’ and ‘yama’ means gaining control over it for triggering energy, keeping you healthy, staying motivated both physically and mentally. For many fitness enthusiasts of these modern times, Pranayama might look like any other practice just for beating stress and anxiety but the science behind the art of breathing, dates to ancient times.
Hindu texts like Bhagwat Gita, Patanjali Yoga Sutras discussed the profound meaning of Pranayama and in fact, laid down a path for following a happy, healthy and meaningful life, just by taking charge of inhalations and exhalations. Let us agree that there is no dearth for various schools teaching different types of yoga and though we Indians realized what all Pranayama is about only few decades back, westerners lapped it up, in the 18th century itself.
Noted Sanskrit scholar and Britisher Arthur Antony Macdonell described Pranayama as suspension of breath for relaxing muscles, abdomen and ribs while Sir Monier-Williams, Boden Professor of Sanskrit at Oxford University explained it as the ‘three-breathing exercises’ – purak, rechak and kumbhak for ensuring emotional, physical, mental and spiritual wellbeing.
Popular British author Paul Brunton in his famous book ‘A Secret Search In India’ widely discussed the technique of ‘Swasanidhi’ – conserving the breath for a long life, in one full chapter.
Pranayama in Religion:
Well, contrary to the belief that only Hindus practice this ancient breathing exercise, several other religions and regions in the world too encourage Pranayama. The very first mention of regulating the breathing pattern was made in the verse 4.29 of Bhagwat Gita.
Sage Patanjali in his famous book Yoga Sutras of Patanjali described Pranayama as the fourth limb of Asthanga Yoga that aids in achieving higher levels of awareness, concentration, lung health and overall fitness.
Another famous practice Hath Yoga in its 15th century text Hath Yoga Pradipika describes various Pranayama techniques including Kumbhaka or breathing retention, Ujjayi or victorious breathing, Bhastrika or Bellows breath, Kapalabhati or skull-shining breath, Surya Bedhana or sun-piercing breath or Brahmari pranayama or buzzing bee technique.
Buddhists believe that Lord Buddha practiced a meditative technique of pressing the palate with the tongue, controlling breath for a grip over concentration and thus achieved enlightenment. Even today, Tibetan monks practice ‘nine breathings of purification’ a form of alternate nostril breathing.
What Is Pranayama?
In simple words, Pranayama is nothing but a group of breathing exercises. Our ancient scholars believed that there are five types of prana (life forces) in our body – Prana, Apana, Vyan, Udana and Samana. Prana is defined as upward flowing while Apana is downward flowing and by practicing this the right way, one can achieve healthy body and mind.
How Should I Sit For Pranayama?
Pranayama is one of the primary asanas in yoga, which warms up the body for performing various other poses with agility and keep you going for rest of the day. If you are a beginner, just concentrate on feeling the breath and focus on both inhalation and exhalation even as you do it.
- Sit in the comfortable position, either padmasana or vajrasana on a yoga mat
- Make sure your spine is erect throughout the practice session
- Start with natural breathing. Close your eyes, observe the pattern of this most effortless breathing technique. This will make you understand the physical, mental and emotional state of your own and it helps in releasing stress.
- After sitting down quietly for 5 minutes and observing natural breathing, practice each type of breathing technique for a minute, especially if you are beginner. You can slowly increase the pace as per your comfort and convenience
What Is Pranava Mudra?
The yogic practitioners not only defined the ways of breathing but also explained on how one should fold fingers, while sitting for this exercise. Known as Pranava Mudra, it is done by folding index and thumb fingers and keeping rest of the three straight.
It is recommended to achieve concentration and focus while performing Pranayama.
What Are The Seven Types of Pranayama?
Over the years, the techniques of Pranayama have evolved and may differ slightly from school to school. However, all these breathing practices are aimed at activating each cell in the body, power lungs, calm down the emotions, boost cardiac health, relax muscles, regulate hormones and of course the thought process.
Bhastrika Pranayama is like bellowed breathing, which means it is slightly vigorous but boosts lung health in phenomenal ways.
Sit in a comfortable position and breathe in through both nostrils
Fill in the lungs with air and make sure diaphragm is fully stretched
Breathe out through both nostrils. Repeat it for at least 2 minutes but 5 minutes maximum, by taking deep breaths and inhaling out completely.
How It Helps?
Bhastrika Pranayama boosts cardiac and lung health. It strengthens nervous system, helps in dealing with headache, migraine, depression and anxiety. It also aids in triggering metabolism, thus burning away those stubborn fat deposits on stomach and other regions of the body.
Kapal Bhati Pranayama:
Kapal Bhati is one of the popular pranayama techniques which consists of powerful inhalations and exhalations. Kapal means forehead and Bhati means light. Thus, this breathing exercise helps in dealing with mental issues and keeps you calm.
- Keep right hand fingers in Pranava mudra and close the right nostril with thumb, inhale with the left nostril, hold it for 10 seconds and exhale through the same
- Alternate the same by closing the left nostril and inhaling, exhaling through right nostril
- Make sure the stomach goes in, while performing these techniques for better results
How It Helps?
Kapal Bhati purifies the blood, makes you glow from within. It calms your mind, beats depression and brings in stability to the thoughts. Since this breathing exercise exerts some pressure on the abdominal cavity, it helps in relieving constipation, boosts digestion, and improves the functioning of liver, spleen, kidney and prostrate gland.
Also known as Uddiyana Pranayama, this particular breathing exercise is involves the muscles in the face and abdominal region.
- Sit in a comfortable position. Breathe air out
- Touch chin to chest, squeeze in the stomach completely and hold that position for 30 seconds
- Release the chin and loosen the stomach muscles and breathe out fully
- Repeat it for3 to 5 times
How It Helps?
Bahaya Pranayama helps in regulating gut function, stomach issues and also prevents hernia. It works wonderful in strengthening uterus health, prevents its prolapse. In men, it prevents the enlargement of prostate gland.
Anulom Vilom Pranayama:
Anulom Vilom or alternate nostril breathing is quite and an effective breathing exercise that can purify both mind and body. It is strongly recommended for beating stress, depression and sudden bouts of anxiety. It can be performed by all age groups.
- Sit down comfortably. Hold right nasal with the thumb and slowly inhale through the left nostril
- Open right nasal and close left nasal with both middle and ring fingers, even as you breathe for 15 seconds. Close right nasal and open left, breathe out and in from left nasal. Repeat
- This practice is also known as Nadi Shuddhi or Nadi Shodhana Pranayama
Bhramari Prayanama or Indian Bee breathing technique offers enormous benefits in regulating hormones, thought process, beating stress and in calming negative emotions like anger, frustration and anxiety. It gets its name from Indian bee Bhramari as the exhalation sounds like a buzzing bee.
- Get seated in a comfortable position. Close ears with your thumbs, while placing index fingers on either sides of eyebrows on the sinuses
- Place rest of the three fingers on eyes with tips pressing slightly on the nostrils
- Take a deep inhalation and make a humming sound ‘Om’ while exhaling
- Repeat it for 5 to 10 times
How It Helps?
Bhramari Pranayama works wonders in bringing down high blood pressure, strengthen heart functioning, reduce negative thoughts, depression, fear and anxiety. The gentle humming sound passes positive vibrations into the body. However, it is not recommended for people with epilepsy, severe bouts of migraine and other types of neurological problems.
Viloma Pranayama means interrupted breathing and it goes against the natural flow. The main purpose of this breathing exercise is to expand the capacity of lungs and to cleanse them within.
- Sit down or on a chair and feel comfortable
- Inhale slowly and try focussing on the lung region. Pause, hold the breath for few seconds and try controlling air in the body
- Keep inhaling and exhaling with brief momentary pauses.
- Repeat for 5 to 10 minutes
How It Works?
Viloma Pranayama improves lung health, making it stronger. It ensures more oxygen intake and better expulsion of carbon dioxide and other pollutants. Do it regularly but slowly if you are an asthmatic patient and to beat other pulmonary issues.
Ujjayi Pranayama is one of the common breathing exercises and it is also known victorious breath. The inhalation and exhalation sounds are often compared to gentle breeze from the trees or by the seashore.
- Settle in a comfortable corner in Padmasana or legs crossed
- Breathe in and out of nose gently and make sure your lips are closed
- Do not let any breath escape through mouth and even as you do this, you can feel a little constriction in throat, as if you are breathing in and out of a thin straw
- Do not clench teeth, jaw, throat regions
- Repeat it for 5 to 10 minutes
How It Helps?
Ujjayi Pranayama helps in dealing with various nervous disorders, beats insomnia, regulates heart rate besides lowering blood pressure. It helps better oxygen intake by the lungs and instantly calms down the mind.
What Are The Benefits of Pranayama?
Pranayama is easy and can be performed by anyone. This ancient yogic practice offers enormous benefits that will leave a positive impact on physical, mental and emotional health. Pranayama in fact is like a gateway of spiritual journey as it offers different perspective towards life by driving out negative energies, filling in positivity and happiness.
These breathing exercises strengthen lung function, improve cardiac health, relax muscles and most importantly stimulate nervous system to work better. Certain breathing exercises can instantly calm your mind, release anxiety, frustration, regulate hormones and can be performed at any time.
What Is The Best Time To Do Pranayama?
Pranayama is usually recommended in the morning hours to keep you charged for rest of the day. You can also do it after dawn, for immense relaxation after a hectic day’s work and catch a good night’s sleep.
Can Everyone Do Pranayama?
Well, Pranayama is effortless, but it comes with certain pre-requisites
If you are a beginner, do not ever attempt it on your own
Learn from a well-trained yoga teacher for getting into the groove and regulating breath
If you are suffering from high blood pressure, chronic lung ailments, nervous system disorders like epilepsy or other conditions, do talk to your doctor and yoga trainer, if these techniques would help you.
Pranayama is an ancient, time-tested yogic practice that involves deeper, intense yet gentle breathing exercises. There are many types of Pranayama recommended by various schools of Yoga, but all are pointed towards achieving balance between physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.
It is proved beyond doubt that breathing exercises help in strengthening lungs, heart health, energize each cell in the body, contribute for the overall physical wellbeing. By regulating the breath, one can calm their mind instantly, prevent negative thoughts and enjoy positivity. Though it sounds simple, these breathing techniques need to be learnt in a professional manner from a well-trained yoga practitioner for nudging you into the practice, slowly and steadily.Holding on to the breath than the recommended time can cause adverse effects and it is extremely crucial to be mindful of that. If you are a high blood pressure, cardiac patient or suffering from regular pulmonary disorders, discuss it with your doctor if Pranayama is good for you.